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Abstract

Created by the German priest Johann Martin Schleyer in 1879, Volapük ("World's Speech") was the first artificial language to gain wide spread popularity as a prospective form of universal communication. During the 1880s, Volapük clubs were formed throughout Europe and the Americas, with a particularly active center in eastern Massachussetts, however it was gradually replaced by its somewhat less elaborate rival, Esperanto.

The Volapük Collection includes printed materials, ephemera, and small number of letters and postcards written in Volapük. Assembled by F. L. Hutchins of Worcester, Mass., a leading American Volapükist, the collection reflects the brief, but intense international interest in the potential of Volapük to become a lingua franca of business and a medium for exchange across borders, and it conveys some of the excitement its adherents felt at its potential.

Background note

Although the concept of an artificial international language predates the eighteenth century, it was not until the late nineteenth century that it hit its stride. The rise of nationalisms (and antinationalisms) made the period a particularly fruitful one for universal languages, beginning with the appearance of Volapük ("World's Speech") in 1879, followed by Esperanto (1887), and Ido, or improved Esperanto (1907). All three have retained devotees into the present.

The first planned language to gain any degree of success, Volapük was the brain child of Johann Martin Schleyer (1831-1912), a Catholic priest from southern Germany who claimed to have received divine inspiration to improve international communication. Benefitting from a heavily systematized grammar, a rigorously consistency, and a clear method of word formation, Volapük aimed for ease of pronunciation and spelling, monosignificance of words (each word having only one meaning), and clarity in syntax and gender. At the same time, Schleyer made every effort to capture the richness and nuance of a natural language. His efforts, to say the least, struck a chord. During the 1880s, Volapük was wildly successful at attracting adherents drawn to the utopian dream of universal communication, with estimates of over 100,000 adherents at its peak of popularity. The language was spread through the formation of Volapük clubs, which sprang up throughout Europe and the Americas, and three International Congresses were held during the 1880s to promulgate the language, the first in Germany in 1884, followed by others in 1887 and 1889.

The decline of Volapük, however, was not long in coming. After the congress of 1889, Schleyer's vehement resistance to any alteration in his original conception eroded support, and the language began a slow decline relative to the upstart Esperanto. The problems with Volapük can be traced largely to internal causes, not only Schleyer's intransigence, but the complexity of verb forms, which featured a vast number of different endings to connoting subtle shades of meaning, its overly complex grammar, and its arbitrary choice of roots that made Volapük a chore for Europeans and Americans to learn. In the years following Schleyer's death in 1912, Volapük went into near total eclipse, enjoying only a brief revival in the Netherlands in the 1930s and, until the Nazis suppressed it, in Germany, as well. Arie de Jong's revision of 1931 (Volapük pebevoböl) made some significant improvements to Schleyer's idiosyncratic system, including in verb structures, tense, and grammar, however Volapük pebevoböl never regained the popularity of its parent. By the 1960s, only a handful of speakers remained, and these mostly Esperantists seeking little more than a point of linguistic comparison.

Scope and content

The Volapük Collection consists of approximately 0.25 linear feet of printed circular letters, newspapers, pamphlets, and ephemera, with a few hand-written postcards and letters, all relating to the first flowering of Volapük during the late 1880s and early 1890s. The collection reflects the brief, but intense international interest in the potential of Volapük to become a lingua franca of business and a medium for exchange across borders, and conveys some of the excitement its adherents felt at its potential.

The Volapük Collection appears to have been gathered largely by the American Volapükist, F. L. Hutchins of Worcester, Mass., probably for an informational exhibit on the language. Hutchins was involved both in his local Volapük club (the Volapükaklub de Worcester) and in the national Volapükaklub Nolumelopik (North American Association for the Propagation of Volapük), and the collection provides a slight, but balanced view of his internationalist aims. In addition to letters from European Volapükists, Hutchins displayed a letter in Volapük from China, and newspapers, promotional and informational circulars and publications in Volapük published by American Volapük advocates from Massachusetts to Portland, Oregon. Among the more interesting materials are a set of announcements for the First Annual Convention of American Volapükists and two circular letters (folder 33) describing the progress of Volapük in North America. Although most of these periodicals are represented by only a single issue, the geographic breadth of coverage is intriguing.

The collection has been retained in the order in which it was received, despite its somewhat chaotic nature. Several folders contain what appear to be exhibit labels (the text of which is transcribed in the descriptive notes below). Except as noted, all of the materials in the collection are printed or lithographic copies, intended for mass circulation.

Collection information

Provenance

Acquired from M&S, June 1973 (accession number 1973-1167ms).

Preferred citation

Cite as: Volapük Collection, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued by rsc, 2002.

Alternate formats available

The collection is completely microfilmed, Film 1319.

Separated material

A broadside was removed from the collection to the Printed Materials Department:

Volapükaklub in Leitmeritz läsevom atoso söli Hutchins F. L. (Lietmeritz, 1891). Call no.: 973 C683, no.723

Related material

Volapük Centre, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, Catalog of Contents, comp. by Brian R. Bishop (Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, 1981). Call no.: 400 Pam., no.56

Indexing Terms

Corporate Name(s)

  • North American Association for the Propagation of Volapük
  • Volapükaklub Nolumelopik
  • Volapükaklub de Worcester

Genre(s)

  • Broadsides.
  • Circular letters
  • Postcards

Personal Name(s)

  • Creelman, G. C.
  • Hutchins, F. L.
  • Schleyer, Johann Martin, 1831-1912
  • Sprague, Charles E., (Charles Ezra), 1842-1912
  • Various

Subject(s)

  • Languages, Artificial
  • Volapük


Detailed Inventory
Volapük Exhibit
1889-1891 33 folders Box 1
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Exhibit card
n.d. 1 item Folder 1
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World-Speech Volapük
n.d. 1 item Folder 1
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"Merits adoption, Melidom lensumi": Reasons to learn Volapük

Sprague, Charles E., (Charles Ezra), 1842-1912.
Hand-book of Volapük (N.Y.: Office Co., 1888)
1888 2 items: 2p. and 8p. pamphlet Folder 2
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Specimen pages

Price list of Volapük Publications
n.d. 4p. Folder 2
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Addenda to Wood's Dictionary of Volapük
n.d. 1p. Folder 2
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Specimen pages

Schleyer'a literat Volapük (Konstanz: C. Okle, n.d.)
n.d. 4p. Folder 2
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Labob stimi nunön oli atoso dö fünam Danotabura Volapükik tedelik
1889 3p. Folder 3
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"Circular describing a bureau designed to advise as to standing of any commercial house in the world conducted through and by means of Volapük and Volapükans," Milan, Italy

Association Polytechnique de Charenton et Saint-Maurice.
...Programme des Cours
1889-1890 1p. circular Folder 3
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"Circular showing Volapük as study in Polytechnique Association of Charenton, a suburb of Paris, Franch."

Mehmke, R..
Nüns Gletavik (Fovot 2id)
1889 1p. Folder 4
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"Mathematics translated into Volapük for use in University of Darmstadt, Germany"

Kittel, Hans.
Sül palestimöl e paflen!
1889 2p. lithograph circular Folder 4
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"Circular from Volapük Club in Leipzig"

Volapükaklub Nolumelopik (North American Association for the Propagation of Volapük).
1889-1890 1 folder Folder 5
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Constitution
ca.1890 2p. Folder 5
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List of members
1889 4p. Folder 5
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First Annual Convention of American Volapükists... Boston, Mass.
August 21, 22, 23, 1890 4p. Folder 5
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Announcement of Convention

You are cordially invited to attend the Public Session of the First Annual Convention of the N.A.A.P.V.
1889 2p. invitation Folder 5
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Admit bearer and friends to the Volapük exhibit
1890 1p. ticket Folder 5
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[Invitation to dinner]
[1890] 1p. Folder 5
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Constitution
1889 2p. Folder 5
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Volapükaklub Nolumelopik
July 21, 1890 1p. Folder 5
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Announcement of First Annual Convention of North American Volapükists.

Danelson, James Edwin.
Circular letter concerning organizing a Volapük club in New York
August 5, 1890 1p. Folder 6
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World-Speech Volapük
n.d. 1 item Folder 6
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"Merits adoption, Melidom lensumi": Reasons to learn Volapük. See also same item in folder 1:2.

Volapükaklub Flentänik.
I. Lovepolam in pük netik
1886 3p. Folder 7
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"Circular of French Volapük Club concerning the issuing of Diplomas"

Post, Alfred A. (North American Association for Propagation of Volapük).
Circular letter
189- 1p., 2 copies Folder 8
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Includes list of "Volapük Text-Books" on verso.

Post, Alfred A..
The need of a comprehensive dictionary of Volapük for English students...
ca.1890 1p. Folder 9
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Circular letter.

Sprague, Charles E., (Charles Ezra), 1842-1912.
Dictionary of Volapük...
ca.1890 1p. Folder 9
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Advertising flier for M. W. Wood's Dictionary.

Hutchins, F. L..
Telegram to A. A. Post
February 1891 1p. Folder 9
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"Volapük telegram in use of which 7 words were saved"

Hughes, W. J..
Li kapälol Volapüki? Works on Volapük
n.d. 1p. Folder 10
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Litho. price list.

Volapükabled Däna
1889 8p. Folder 10
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Danish Volapük-language periodical.

Hughes, W. J..
Volapük
n.d. 1p. Folder 10
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Notification of magazine, Volapük

Soprague, Charles E..
Volapük
ca.1890 1p. postcard Folder 10
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Information on the language

Beale, Charles C..
Volapük Headquarters...
ca.1890 1p. postcard Folder 10
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Notice of receipt of subscription for magazine Volapük.

Post, Alfred A..
The need of a comprehensive dictionary of Volapük for English students...
ca.1890 1p. Folder 10
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Circular letter.

Huebsch, Samuel..
Volapük, A Guide for Learning the Universal Language
August 15, 1889 1p. postcard Folder 10
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Notification of availability of two works on Volapük.

What is Volapük?
ca.1887 2p. Folder 11
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Avantages et utilité du Volapük
n.d. 2p. Folder 11
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In French.

Zeitungs-Auszüge
n.d. 2p. Folder 11
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Extracts from newspapers on Volapük, in German.

Wéltspràchelíteratúr
n.d. 2p. Folder 11
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In German.

Zirkular Nr. 285
n.d. 2p. Folder 11
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In German.

Nogan Volapükik
1889-1890 16p. Folder 12
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"Organ of Volapük for Belgium and Holland published in Antwerp."

Van Kuo T'ung Hua Tzu Tien
n.d. 13p. Folder 12
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"Chinese Volapük Paper published in Amoy, China."

Volapükabled Däna
1889 4p. Folder 13
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Prospectus(?), "Volapük Gazette, Organ for Denmark and Scandinavians published at Copenhagen."

Auszug aus dem zweiten Blatte des "Essener Zeitung"... Volapük
1881 2p. Folder 14
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In German.

Volapükaklub de Gent.
Card
n.d. 1p. Folder 14
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Miscellaneous envelopes
1890-1891 5 items Folder 14
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Miscellaneous envelopes from European Voluapuk clubs.

[Item not included]
  Folder 15
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"Paper published in Milano, Italy"

The Bouquet
January 1, 1891 2p. Folder 16
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Article on Volapük in popular magazine.

Beale's Volapük Leaflets, no. 5
n.d. 8p. Folder 16
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Schwäbische Weltsprachezeitung
1880 8p. Folder 17
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Number 1. "Paper published in Allmendinger, Wurttemburg."

Volanunel
1890 8p. Folder 17
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Number 3. "Paper published at Prague, Bohemia."

Volapükan
1890 8p. Folder 18
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Number 25. Paper published in Munich, Germany

Pakamabled Nedänik
n.d. 6p. Folder 18
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Number 2. Paper published in s'Heerenhoek, Netherlands.

Volapük correspondence
1890 5 ALsS Folder 19
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Miscellaneous manuscript letters written in Volapük from Alfons de Cock (Belgium); R. Mehmke (Darmstadt, Germany); Winsum (Breda, Germany); A. Hullebrouck (Antwerp, Belgium); illeg. (Amoy, China)

World-Speech Volapük
n.d. 1 item Folder 19
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"Merits adoption, Melidom lensumi": Reasons to learn Volapük. Same as folder 1:2.

Cogabled
1888 8p. Folder 20
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Number 24, "Comic paper published in Munich, Bavaria.".

Veizapot
1891 4p. Folder 20
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Number 5; Volapük newspaper from Zurich, Switzerland.

Cuyper, B. de.
[Invitation]
May 22, 1891 1p. Folder 21
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In French, "Invitation to a musicale and to lecture concerning Volapük by Prof. J. de Hoon, Gent, Germany.".

Gased Bevünetik
1890 16p. Folder 22
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Vol. 1, no. 5, "Published in St. Louis, Mo., USA".

Schleyer, Johann Martin, 1831-1912.
Kurze Vergleichende Grammatik der Weltsprache (Glamat Blefik Feleigöl volapüka) (Konstanz: von Schleyers, 1887)
1887 12p. Folder 22
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"Volapük Grammars".

Volapük. (Universal language)
1887 4p. Folder 22
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Pronunciation sheet and grammatical information

Starck, H..
Auszug aus dem Welstracheblatte nr. 51...
n.d. 2p. Folder 23
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Emilie, Paul.
Liebe Freunde und Sprachkunstgenossen!
n.d. 1p. Folder 23
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Volapükan Melopik
1891 6p. Folder 24
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Vol. 1, no. 21 and 22; "American Volapükist published in Portland, Oregon"

Volapükabled Tälik
1889 8p. Folder 24
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Vol. 2, no. 13; "Italian Volapük Paper, published in Torino, Italy"

Extract from the Speech about Volapük: Advantages and usefulnes of the world-language
n.d. 2p. Folder 25
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Vorzüge Nutzen und Vorteile der Weltsprache / Bizugs ä pöfüds Volapüka
1890 2p. Folder 25
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Phrases in German (and Volapük equivalents) extolling the virtues of Volapük

Sezüks se Bükots
n.d. 2p. Folder 25
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Snippets praising Volapük, in Volapük.

Volapükabled Zenodik
1890 4p. Folder 26
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No. 109; "Father Schleyer's own paper, 1st number of the 10th year"

Miscellaneous postcards
1889-1891 8 postcards Folder 27
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Postcards, in Volapük, addressed to F. L. Hutchins and others

Miscellaneous envelopes
ca.1890 8 items Folder 28
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Miscellaneous postcards
1889-1891 8 postcards Folder 29
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Postcards, in Volapük, addressed to F. L. Hutchins and others

Souvenir of Lecture on Volapük at Trinity Church, Worcester, Mass.
April 13, 1891 4p. Folder 29
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Brief poem in English and facing Volapük.

Calling cards
n.d. 5 items Folder 29
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Miscellaneous envelopes
n.d. 8 items Folder 30
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Envelopes from European Volapükists.

Miscellaneous postcards
1890-1891 8 postcards Folder 31
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Postcards from European Volapükists, in Volapük, including one from Paul Champ Rigot.

Miscellaneous letters in Volapük
1889-1891 5 ALsS Folder 32
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Manuscript letters, in Volapük, addressed to F. L. Hutchins, including one from Paul Champ Rigot.

Zeitungs- und Brief-Auszüge über Volapük
n.d. 2p. Folder 32
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In German.

Söl e läd Lewis E. DeWolfe
1890 1p. AMs Folder 33
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Manuscript poem.

Creelman, G. C..
Volapükaklub de Worcester
n.d. 1p. Folder 33
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In facing Volapük and English; circular letter soliciting membership

Hutchins, F. L..
1891 Folder 33
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Volapük Lifomöz
Sept. 19, 1891 1p. (2 copies) Folder 33
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In English; mimeo(?) copies addressed to members of the Volapükaklub Nolümelopik apprising them of progress in Volapük efforts.

Circular of information concerning Volapük
July 13, 1891 1p. (2 copies) Folder 33
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In English and facing Volapük; litho. copy to members of the Worcester Volapük Club et al., providing international news on Volapük.